“Best laid plans”…

Sooo remember when I acknowledged that we still had a ways to go before we pull off this next planned adventure.  Well, we still have a ways to go, as in pushing it till next hiking season (and I don’t mean this Fall).  At the time I wrote my last post I was healing from a rather hard impact with a snow covered mountain…while on “sticks”.  I have “healed” for the most part, but certain other ailments have returned, namely Morton’s Neuroma in my right foot.  In addition, per one of my faithful readers (Rosanne), and information she was able to obtain from credible sources for us, it’s just gonna be TOO DAMN HOT, (for us…namely ME) to thru-hike the Grand Enchantment Trail during the time period we had pushed our start date to.  While we could pull it off with the current water report that has been provided and updated by Brett Tucker, (the genius who put together this amazing route through Arizona and New Mexico) alas, the temperatures will not be optimal for me (as in triple digits in some places).  I can not risk becoming overheated over a prolonged period of time, and/or dehydrated…for any amount of time.  Going into V-fib and/or carrying an AED just doesn’t seem all that fun, and it’s not fair to ask Paul to carry extra water for me, even though he would (cause that’s the kind of man he is).  This trip, while challenging, was intended to be at a slower pace, with no rigid timeline, so that we could better enjoy the experience and the sights. With that said, we have “opted out” of doing the Grand Enchantment Trail, for the time being.  Early next Spring seems to be a more reasonable, and family friendly time to do it.  Our daughter will be done with college, will have passed her boards and into her career by then, and our son will be fully into his career as well.

We have not however, abandoned the quest for adventure, for I have in my previously chocolate stained hands, plane tickets, ferry passes and permits to hike the Chilkoot Trail, of Yukon Gold Rush fame, the first week of August.  It is a 33 mile route that starts just outside Skagway Alaska, goes over the Chilkoot Pass (a “mere” 3,525 ft…at a predominantly 45 degree angle of ascent) via the “Golden Stairs” ,and ends in Lake Bennett, British Columbia.  Upon completion, we will return via train to Skagway, and then take the ferry to Angoon for the next part of our Alaskan adventure which includes fishing with my father for Silvers, Kings (Salmon) and barn door size Halibut.  A possible fly-fishing excursion into the heart of Brown Bear country is in the works as well, considering that Admiralty Island, upon which Angoon is located, has a prolific population of Brown Bears (which are bigger than Grizzlies) that in actuality accounts for about 10% of the Brown Bear population in Alaska.  So we got that going for us.

Stay tuned for additional “Mini” Adventures and/or mis-adventures as Half Dome and some hike-in fishing adventures are on the “Do-it” list this year.

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Oh the places we’ll go!  The things we’ll see!

We often get asked, “What’s your next adventure?”, as if it is a natural and dare I say, an obligatory portion of our life.  In some ways I think it is, as life is relatively short and we have been blessed with natural athleticism and adventurous spirits, so it would be a disservice if not a “sin” to fail to use said blessings.  In doing so, there is the added bonus in that we feel more connected to both nature and humanity, which in fact also enriches our personal relationship with God.  We are more balanced.  Calmer.  Connected to the true essense of what really matters in this blink of an eye existence we call Life.  
In researching the Grand Enchantment Trail we have been reading blog posts (which are few and far between), scowering the GET guidebook and maps (thanks to Brett Tucker, the route’s founder), that when printed is in very small print which becomes problematic when ones arms are not long enough these days. While I know I can download it (and the route’s topo maps), or read it on my iPad (with enlarged print), there is something about paper in hand and a yellow highlighter that makes the research more “real”, and allows its information to stick. I can’t help but feel a bit anxious about the planning for and actual execution of another long distance hike. Considering our track record there are so many things that can go array, both in the prelude to the hike and during said hike. In fact, a few weeks ago I went threw a week long bout of back spasms, most likely a result of overexubant training, and currently my knee is a bit sore from a recent ski trip…and well, a unique “yard sale” fall (or rather landing) that required taking “inventory” while lying perfectly still, breathing through a mouthful of snow.  My husband’s remark, was “Wow, you looked like Pete Rose sliding into home”.  I forget sometimes I’m no “spring chicken”. The mind is willing but the body reminds us that they are doing all the work.  As I write, I am currently awaiting my fate as a potential juror in fulfillment of my civic duty as an American.  Whether I get chosen or not may alter our current plans.

Most people don’t think to traverse the desert, let alone two desert terrains and 14 mountain ranges on purpose.  And in this case, we would be beginning a little “late” in the season, as Arizona’s “Spring” is akin to “Summer” at home.  Never one to turn down a challenge, we have completed most of our preparations for this hike.  Our intent is to attempt it all the same, and yet may in fact call an audible in the event the heat is too much (as in on the dangerous side for me and my hydration/electrolyte heart issues).  We expect this trek to take not more than 8 weeks, as we will not be so much concerned with packing in the miles as we will be concerned with soaking up the sights. One thing we have in our favor is that it appears to be a “wetter” Winter and hopefully Spring, and as it turns out, these deserts (Sonoran and Chihuahua) are not as barren as one would think.  These particular deserts are somewhat of an oxymoron in that they are considered “wet” deserts teaming with flora and fauna.  They contain nearly 300 species of cacti (the saguaro, pronounced “sa-WAH-row” being some of the oldest, tallest and slowest growing).  Of the 14 mountain ranges we will traverse, there are more than 4 “opportunities” to be over 10,000 ft, which this year most likely means walking in/through snow.  90 miles of the route include walking next to, over or through at least 3 rivers (as in the river is the trail), and numerous slot and box canyons complete with their own unique ecosystems.  There will be a multitude of furry critters (to include, deer, mountain lions, black bears, javalenas, rabbits, elk, onyx , and antelope), and of course reptiles and arachnids, hence “cowboy” camping will be kept to a minimum.

Standby to standby…

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Merry Christmas…Cholla

So a new adventure is in the making.  Planning and research is expanding and contracting as we have our sights set on another thru-hike.  While this one will be a “mere” 770 miles, we believe this hike will be quite challenging and will require orienteering skills and frankly “perfect” weather…for 8 weeks.  Because of family obligations we will not set out until just after Easter 2017.  Our quest is to hike the Grand Enchantment Trail , the GET for short.  This technically, is NOT specifically a singular trail like the PCT or the AT, but more of a route (39 segments) that are strung together with already established foot trails (425 miles), 2 and 4WD dirt roads (145 miles), some cross-country “bushwhacking”(85 miles), and paved roads (30 miles) from one end of the Sonoran Desert National Monument (776 sq miles) just west of Phoenix Arizona to the Saundra Peak Tram, just outside of Albuquerque New Mexico.  The trail includes portions of the Arizona Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, and spans 14 mountain ranges and two “wet” deserts (Sonoran and Chihuahuan). It is a little traveled route, but I dare say worth the effort.  When we went to visit my parents in Arizona during their annual plethora of doctor’s check-up appointments at the Mayo Clinic near Phoenix, we checked out the GET’s west-side trail origin in the Superstition Mountains of the Tonto National Forest, the First Water Trailhead.  The Tonto National Forest has an amazing trail system, and had we been more knowledgeable about the area we would have hit the trail a little earlier in morning, and been able to do a longer loop type hike.  The terrain and sights were not what we expected.  I hate to admit it, but  we pretty much thought of Arizona as mostly resembling the desert that flanks the I-10 through Palm Desert/Palm Springs in Southern California.  We were wrong on sooo many levels, which was/is  a good thing.  The trail, of course is NOTHING  like  the PCT.  It was rugged, and sparsely maintained, but is way better than having to dance around, between, and through pokey vegetation.

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Never in a million years did we expect to see two large bucks (mule deer) wandering so close

Nonetheless, the portion we walked was breathtakingly beautiful.  It left us wanting for more.   Thus, our research, planing, and more importantly training has begun so that our feet and legs are ready, and frankly as an added bonus, to drop more than a few lbs collected over this delicious holiday period. Damn you holiday sweets and libations!  As long as our feet stay healthy, and we have no relapses of plantar fasciitus and/or Morton’s neuroma, I expect we will set off east-bound from the First Water Trailhead just after Easter. In between, we will keep you updated on our planning progress, gear selection, and getting to know the GET as best we can before we embark on another adventure, of which we are sure Mr. Murphy and his lovely spouse, Mother Nature will be sure to tag along.

Enough wondering about it (the GET), we might as well wander and find out!

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What the Lyme?

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Ticks removed from a dog at a Vet Clinic our daughter works at in Sherman Oaks

So a lot has happened since our last adventure.  Climbing Whitney and conquering my fear of heights, and successfully dodging altitude sickness was a great milestone, made all the more special having shared it with family and friends.  One family member was demonstratively missing though.  My daughter.  My daughter was once an extremely active, vibrant and energetic girl.  Her nickname was (and still is) “Shellzilla”, “Shelbinator” or “The Twister”.  While we still see her as having a vibrant soul with a tenacious mind and attitude, she is not well, physically.  She has suffered with headaches from a young age. Her headaches have progressed from monthly to weekly and for the past three years, to daily in the form of often debilitating migraines.  The headaches have limited her ability to keep up and complete classes, thus dragging on her studies to become a Veterinary Tech from two years, to now four.  Along with the headaches she has “floaters” and dark spots that appear frequently and interrupt her vision.  This has impacted her ability to read in an efficient manner, and especially out loud in class, which through grade school and into Jr. High marked her by her “peers” (and sadly her teachers) as a “special needs” kid. Constant muscle and searing joint pain (she likens it to having glass in your joints and muscles) plague her daily.  Her active life is limited to walking her dogs, which is often even too much for her.  Her skin is sensitive to touch.  It pains her for us to even hug her (and its not because we’re her parents).   We have battled (successfully) with our insurance to see Specialists in an effort to get to the root of her increasingly overwhelming illnesses.  Her brain is “fine” they tell us…nothing to see.  Her optic nerve and eyes are “fine”.  Her stomach and intestines are “fine”.  There is nothing “wrong” with her joints or muscles.  She has tried every migraine medication under the sun, none of which have provided her any relief, with the exception of BOTOX injections.  They only serve to “take the edge off” and reduce the number of hospital visits from quarterly to only twice a year for a shot of dilaudid, the only thing that has proven successful to quiet the pain in her head (and joints as well).  The only problem is that she has to wait often up to 4 hours before she is administered the pain reducing narcotic (it only brings her pain to a manageable 2 in the 1-10 scale).  If she goes to the hospital on her own, they will not give her the shot, as they assume she is a junkie “Jonesing for a fix”.  She feels like her brain isn’t working like it should. She feels like she is in a constant “fog” of sorts.  Her memory is getting poorer and poorer.  In her teens, we figured she was being a “typical teenager”, with selective listening…especially with us, when she would fail to carry out the simplest of requests, saying that she “forgot”.  She has not had a full and rested night’s sleep in years, which we are sure is/has contributed to her on-going malaise.  Earlier this year we switched her to a new doctor, resulting in a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia.  While it was “nice” to finally put a name to it, it still provided no answers.  The recommendation was to “try and go Gluten Free”, like every unexplained illness has some root in products and foods containing wheat.  Her new doctor, at our request, even tested her again (she has had 3 previous tests) for Lyme Disease.  We were told that the results were “negative”.  When we told her Neurologist that we were having her tested for Lyme Disease, he essentially told us we were wasting our time, saying “I’m from Vermont, Lyme’s is an East Coast illness.  There’s no Lyme’s west of the Rockies”, as he wrote out another referral to a Psychiatrist and another Neurological Specialist affiliated with USC.  He is/was convinced her “illness” was literally all in her head.  “Have you tried losing weight?  Are you depressed?”, he has asked on several visits.  Let’s just say knowing what I know now, I would like to give that arrogant young doctor a concussion.  Because he was such an ass, I decided to see if I could prove him wrong.  I knew that Lyme infected ticks had been found in California.  The husband (Jordan Fischer-Smith) of a gal in my Calfornia State Parks Cadet class, had been diagnosed with Lyme’s disease, and in 2009 was in a documentary about it (Under Our Skin).  In the back-country of Crystal Cove State Park, in Southern California (between Laguna and Newport Beach), ticks infected with Lyme’s have been discovered.  So I knew it was out there.  When my daughter was little, we recall removing a tick from her head that according to Shelby she thought was “just a bump”.  She had a few others from time to time, but never did we recall seeing the “tell-tale” red ring (or bullseye rash), so we never thought much of it.  I recall my dad telling us of having removed a tick from himself and it developing a red ring.  He previously lived in Gilroy, California.  He was immediately prescribed a heavy dose of antibiotics, and is presumably Lyme free.   I think in the back of our head, we thought it might be Lyme’s, but we never really knew or thought much about the disease…until NOW.  The thought of Lyme’s really didn’t push its way to the forefront of our thought until I was helping my sister find a new apartment.  We ended up speaking with a potential landlord who suffered from Lyme’s.  She had lost just about everything.  Her house, her career, and her marriage to its debilitating effects.  As we talked, my sister made the connection with the symptoms this woman had described, while having been mis-diagnosed for over 20 years.  Maybe my daughter has Lyme’s.  The gal told us about having her blood tested through IGENEX, and about using the International Lyme and Associated Disease Society (ILADS) as a resource, and that we should seek out a “Lyme Literate Doctor”.  Thus began the research.  Two weeks later, Paul just happened to be talking to his cousin who was asking about how Shelby was doing (she had posted on FaceBook that she was feeling sad and awful – she won’t “friend” me because in her words, “It’s just creepy mom”, but she is “friends” with just about everyone in our extended family but Trevor, Paul and I), Anyhoo… Paul’s other cousin jumped on the phone inquiring as to her symptoms.   Upon Paul telling her, her resounding reply was “SHE HAS LYME!”.  She and her two daughters had suffered from Lyme disease, and have since been treated and for all practical purposes are “cured”.  Considering our most frequent and fervent prayers have been to help us help our daughter heal from her ailments, we were pretty sure this was a sign from God (or the “Universe” for those still on the edge of believing).  Thus began our immersion into what we have taken to calling “The Mime of Lyme”, seeing how this disease [or more specifically, bacterial infection(s)] mimics so many illnesses.  Conservatively we have spent an average of 4-6 hours (each), sometimes 10-12 hours, daily researching all things Lyme Disease.  The good, the bad and sadly the ugly.  And looking at the ugly, we are truly blessed that the disease has not progressed to those stages…just yet.   This disease is a nasty little bugger.  In some ways one can’t help but admire it’s tenacity and craftiness.  How a simple microscopic corkscrew shaped bacterium (spirochete — pronounced, spy-ro-keet) can reek such havoc on the human body is simply remarkable.  Of course, it has “friends”, or rather an entourage of co-infections that seems to accompany it everywhere it goes, that only serve to complicate an already complicated disease.

Our research has led us to believe that the only thing that makes “sense”, with her having not responded to any of the treatments or multitude of medications previously administered, is that our daughter is suffering from Chronic Lyme Disease.  How is this possible if the Western Blot test came back “negative”.  Let’s just say, it wasn’t “Moving Day”.

And with that, we embark on another lengthy “adventure” into the world of Lyme Disease.  As such, I have started another blog site called The Mime of Lyme.  It will chronicle our family’s  healing “expedition” through this disease called Lyme.  I will speak to a parent’s perspective, and as best I can the science behind Lyme (in layman’s terms), and my daughter will post about her up close and personal experience with Lyme.  This will be a fully involved and frankly life and death expedition, that will certainly take months, if not years to reach a destination of optimal health for our daughter.  As such our “wanderings” may become somewhat limited to “short” jaunts.  If we are lucky, we will be able to “sneak” away and do the Grand Enchantment Trail, The Wonderland Trail, The Lost Coast Trail, The Arizona Trail, a Rim to Rim to Rim adventure of the Grand Canyon (March-ish), or a long route to Half Dome (as if I haven’t pushed my heights issues enough) this September. As with all things in life…it depends.  And maybe, just maybe, if all goes well we will be able to hit the Appalachian Trail (AT) in 2 years, if not the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).

Life is Good, with each moment to be cherished.  We like to think that not only is the glass half full…it is refillable!

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Bring’n it Home

Most of us were asleep before the sun finally set, and sounds of snoring and an increasing wind were the night’s lullaby.  I got up once to pee in the middle of the night, and ended up star gazing till the night’s chill chased me back into the warmth and comfort of our tent.  I awoke just before the sun began peaking over the mountains across the valley below.  All was quiet.  A gentle wind rustled against the rain-fly of our tent.  I peaked my head out to the scene of brilliant oranges and rich red hues.  A silhouette sat upright on the edge of a pancaked boulder.  I snugged my woolen hat and grabbed my phone in hopes of capturing the brilliant spectacle of light that was morning in the mountains.  I shuffled over to the silhouette, it was Jan.   We remarked how ironic it was that it wasn’t until our last day that we awoke to see the sun rise.  Maybe the other days were not as spectacular and our bodies just knew it, and remanded us to sleep.

As we watched the sun ease its way into the morning, others began to emerge from their tents and gaze in quiet awe.  I returned to our tent to rouse Paul, as this was a sunrise that should not to be missed.  Somehow it is always better to share a moment of beauty than to keep it to ones self.  After Whitney 504The three of us basked in the peaceful brilliance until daylight had fully awakened.  Soon more heads began to emerge from tents scattered in-between this boulder strewn landscape.  We would be headed down, while other’s adventures were just beginning.  As we sipped our coffees and ate what little breakfasts we had left, we watched as pods of would be summiteers, some boldly and others tentatively, shuffled across the snow field to setup for their 1800 ft climb of the snow chute.  It still being early in morning, the sun had not yet reached the face of the chute, and as such it’s face would be stiff and icy.  A miss step would bring certain regression to ones starting place, if one were not careful.  Some stood at the apex of snow and what should have been the beginning of the 99 switchbacks, bewildered and uneasy.  Others searched unsuccessfully for even faint traces of the switchbacks hoping beyond hope that they could avoid the arduous climb up the steep wall of icy snow.

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Zoom in on the small specks…heading across and some working their way up

We surveyed the route and pointed, using Scout’s binoculars to zoom in on the triumphant climbers who would only have another 2 miles to climb before reaching their goal, and the sullen who had met their match and were returning to camp…resolving to give it another try when conditions are not so “challenging”.  One would think that it being our last morning, wherein we would be heading back to “civilization” for un-rehydrated food, a hot shower and clean odoriferous free clothing, that we would be sufficiently motivated to rise early and pack swiftly.  This was not the case, as with all other mornings spent on this adventure.  No sense of hurry or urgency was detected or employed.  The plan the night before was to try and head out no later than 0730.  As with each day’s goal(s), we were “close enough” without “encouragement”.  Scout as always, sat “ready” at the appointed time and patiently watched as the rest of our crew finished one thing or another.  Soon everyone was packed and “ready” to go.  Scout made his usual “announcement “, “Who’s NOT ready?”, which when you think about it is a perfect thing to ask.  Not a sound, which meant everyone was “ready”.  Trevor then started to laugh, and asked Scout “Are you sure you’re ready?”, holding up a wayward sock belonging to Scout.  Oops!  Scout hurriedly grabbed the sock, took off his pack and stuffed it in a side pocket.  “Okay, who’s NOT ready now?”  Scout asks once more.  “Umm, that would still be you”, Trevor replied holding up another item belonging to Scout.  What was quiet chuckling now erupted into bent over, pant pissing, laughter.  It was a perfect way to begin the end of this adventure.

Whitney 0616 516A final farewell to the mountain we conquered, and then down we march, single file, toward Whitney Portal.  Whitney 0616 519It’s only 7.6 miles, and downhill all the way, surely we will be to Whitney Portal by 11am we think, and to the Alabama Hills Cafe by noon.  Ha Ha Ha, silly hikers.  As with this entire trip, nothing is at it seems.

The first 3 miles requires attention to ones footing as we traverse over snow and step down and across uneven boulders, all while doing our best to avoid foot soakers in the water pooled and running through a good portion of the trail.  As we approach the tree-line we are treated to one last opportunity to glissade a mere 40 feet.

It is like the “big kid” slide at the park…only steeper.  All but Jody accept the challenge and seize one more opportunity to “play”in the snow.  Jody has had enough sliding and snow, and walks around it.  As we make our way down the trail to the Portal, more and more often, heavily laden hikers and would be summiteers trudge up the trail.  Some with obvious excitement on their faces, others breathing hard and filled with reflection (…and I’m doing this because?…).  Some stop us and ask about trail conditions, and the switchbacks.  We tell them, that the switchbacks are non-existent, and that to summit Mt. Whitney they’ll first have to climb 1800 ft up a snow chute.  Some are prepared, others we are sure will just end up camping at Trail Camp.  We now understand when they say that 2/3 of all people who attempt to climb Mt. Whitney never make it.  So many factors go into that figure.  Trail conditions.  Time of year.  Altitude issues.  Fitness.  Weather.  Skill level.  No wonder people seek to climb this mountain, and do so a multiple of times.  It is a new and different challenge each time.   Most of our group are all in agreement, that this was a ‘One and Done’ venture…for now.  Soon we see patches of asphalt, which means we are almost in spitting distance of the Portal.  It feels like it takes forever to get there.  More and more people clutter the trail as we close in on our end point.  When we reach the trail head at Whitney Portal, a big sigh comes over the group, and then a mad dash to the Forest Service pit toilets and the water faucet ensues.  IMG_20160608_115139524_HDROnce “business” is taken care of we quickly take a “team” picture, as we have no time to lose if we are to “Yogi” a ride down into Lone Pine 13 miles below.  It is 1230 in the afternoon, and one or two cars appear to be heading back down.  We waste little time, cajoling a ride for three of us (JAN, Trevor and Scout) into town.  Paul, April, Jody and I have a bit longer to wait.  We are turned down more than once.  I guess picking up stinky strangers with backpacks is just too risky for some.  Eventually we are graciously given a ride by two young men in separate cars who were hoping to drop one of their cars at the Portal to reclaim once they completed their 3 week hike of the John Muir Trail (JMT).  We told them we ran into the same issues, hence our hitching into town.  They figured it would be “good karma” for them to pick us up, as they too will need the kindness of complete “strangers” when they finish.  They drop us at the Hostel in Lone Pine where we shower and wait for Jan, Trevor and Scout who had made a great decision to collect our two remaining cars at Horseshoe Meadow while they waited for us to Yogi a hitch into town.  Our end goal was to dine at the Alabama Hills Cafe before they close at 2pm.  It is 1:50 when they pull to the curb.  We tentatively pull open the door to the cafe.  “I know it’s almost 2 pm, but any chance you can feed some hungry hikers?  We’ll understand if you are about to close and can’t”, Jan pleads in her most upbeat voice.  ‘Come on in’, the waitress beckons.  Faces glowing red and freshly sunburnt, crisp new t-shirts exclaiming we climbed Mt. Whitney, and hair still wet from a quick and glorious rinse we plop ourselves down and drool over the menu.  The portions are hearty, as is our hunger, for “hiker hunger” had just arrived on our pallet’s door.  We all but practically lick our plates clean.  Fully satiated it is time to part ways and head back to each other’s respective “reality” that awaits our return.  This has been a glorious trip.  Who would have thought that such an eclectic group would fare so well on such an adventure.  Might there be another adventure in store for the Magnificent 7?After Whitney 508

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A “Terrorific” Day…Part Two

My first goal was to have made it to the Trail Junction.  That way I was sure to be able to exit out of Whitney Portal.  Goal #1…Check!  Having accomplished that, I decided to go as far as I could on the 1.9 mile “trail” to the summit, still unsure how much further I could climb without my head blowing up or becoming paralyzed with fear.

We dropped our packs at the junction (which I really thought would be bigger and more pronounced), after having unloaded our “extra” food on some starving PCTers (who later we would discover gave us really bad intel on what we were in for), and began the remaining 1.9 mile (that’s almost 2) climb to Mt. Whitney.  We figured we would be “winded”, but it was “only” 2 miles so we thought we should be to the top in 2-3 hours at the most now that we weren’t weighed down by our packs.  WRONG!  Four hours later, and minus SideKick (she was the smart one who turned around having reached her saturation point for death defying adventure…besides she had already done Whitney many moons ago), we reached the summit of Mt. Whitney.  I can honestly say that I have never been more terrified in my life, and I’ve been in some pretty hairy situations.  Not only was this a serious height situation for me, but had to negotiate hard packed snow and ice that took over parts of the trail in the most inconvenient way, and locations.  When I would start to “freak-out” (which is a really bad thing to do at over 13,000 ft on a narrow icy trail with 1000-2000 ft drops into oblivion, lined with sharp/jagged shards of granite) my son would say, “Look at the rock in front of you.  You’re doing fine. Breathe”, and I would be able to calm down (enough) and continue on.  Unfortunately, this happened with somewhat regular frequency, especially in the seriously sketchy sections.

As I stated before, at one point, and early on into that 1.9 miles, Jody (SideKick) had come to her senses (she was the only one), but I decided, ‘What the Hell, I’ve come this far, why turn back now’.  Again, Jody was the only one with good sense.  As with every challenge, and in this case, a healthy fear of heights, I reckon it’s “Go Big or Go Home!”…so I went ENORMOUS!  The goal now was to make it to the top of Mt. Whitney in one piece, never mind my head exploding.

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This was Jody’s “turn-a-round” point


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Likewise, this was my ‘What the Hell’ moment…no turning back

Up and over the steep icy snow bank that blocked what should have been a perfectly “good” trail I went.  Had I not already taken a crap that morning before we set off, I am confident I would have crapped my pants right then.  Now I was committed.  Scout, April, Trevor, Jan and Paul had already made this crossing and were encouraging me every step of the way.  The problem was that one wrong step (just as it was in the ascent to the trail junction) and you could be playing a harp.  I don’t want to play a harp…just yet.  One of the many things we had going in our favor though was the weather.  We were blessed with absolutely gorgeous clear blue skies with narry a breath of wind.  You could easily see over 100 miles (I could look out at the horizon, but never down).  Beyond the “commitment” point, there were many terrifying moments.  This trail would be treacherous even without horribly placed pockets of snow and ice.  April said after one particularly sketchy stretch, “I can’t believe they let people do this!  I can’t believe I’m doing this!  Why are you letting me do this?”  Even so, we continued on.  Those who had already reached the summit were on the return, moving at what we thought to be an incredibly fast and confident pace, with glowing wide grins, back from whence they came.  I so want to be that person.  The altitude medication I had been taking seemed to be doing the trick.  My head would hurt from time to time as I gained altitude and I would start to become queazy, but once I stopped for a bit, it would pass and I would continue on.  On more than one occassion we ran into recent “summiteers” who in their haste to get back down the mountain, forgot “trail etiquette “(uphill hikers have the “right of way”) and would expect us going uphill to step aside and “give way” to them as they scampered down the mountain.  Often times it was advantageous, in that we needed to catch our breath anyways, and would step aside, or stop and let them pass.  On one particular occassion, in the middle of a lengthy 60 degree pitch snow field, almost near the top we ran head-on into a group of 6 that expected us to move.  At this particular juncture I was not about to breach trail etiquette and froze in my tracks.  I had made it thus far without falling off the mountain and was not about to misstep here, so I stood my ground.  Besides they have already been to the top, so they had that going for them.  Trevor was more than slightly annoyed that they expected us to “give way”, and asked the lead guy, “So, Dude, What’s your plan?  It should have been obvious from the beginning, that they should have waited for us to negotiate this stretch as there was no “natural” place to step aside.  I can only assume that their euphoria for making it to the top overwhelmed their senses…in every way.  Thusly, I maintained my “deer in the headlights”, frozen in time stance, as I was not about to do anything but step into the already established snowy tread that I was ahead of me.  They were going to have to either go back or go around.  It was everything I could do to maintain my composure, as I dare not look down for fear of conguring up a case of vertigo.  Eventually they chose to step up and around us (which made me even more nervous), all the while looking at us like we were the idiots.  Well that was “fun”, I said to Trevor once we made it to a “natural” step aside point and caught our breath.  Just prior to finally summiting we looked back from whence we came in this video below.

Overall, April, Jan and Scout picked their way up the trail to the summit seemingly with ease. Scout negotiated the trail hazards with apparent ease, as he is nimble and sure footed.  April was experiencing headaches, but they would pass in short order, allowing her to continue her climb to the mountain’s top.  Jan had no problem looking over the edge, taking pictures, and talking the entire time.  Some of her talk (especially on the way back), I had to “shush”, when she would say things like, ‘Wow, if you slip here it would probably kill you’, or ‘I’d hate to break a leg here’.  Not exactly helpful when one (me) is already terrified and gets nervous climbing a ladder, let alone 14,000+ feet.  Other than that, she is one of the most unflappable and upbeat persons I have ever met.  As I continued to make my way up the “trail”, Paul and Trevor were my “bookends”, leading the way and helping me to quell my now absolutely reasonable fear of heights.  Look to the horizon, don’t freak out, breathe, one foot in front of the other, catch your breath, plant your poles, move…was my mantra to the top.  Summiting Mt. Whitney was something I never thought I would be able to do, and I was prepared to be “happy”, and frankly satisfied with making it higher than Forrester Pass (13,153 ft ) to Trail Crest Junction (13, 519 ft).

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A Family Affair


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The Magnificent 7 (minus one) – photo courtesy of BeeKeeper

But more importantly being able to share this with my son (who had attempted once before, but had to retreat due to altitude sickness), my husband and good friends made it ever so much more special.  Once reaching the top, our breathing became less labored.  In fact, I was no longer winded, nor did my lungs ache for a higher concentration of oxygen.  I couldn’t frown if I wanted to.  It’s like gravity reversed itself.  We took a plethora of pictures, but none do this climb justice as they only paint a “two-dimensional” picture of what it is to climb a mountain, to test your skills, to temper fears, and to soak in the abject beauty of the moment and the views.  An entire dictionary of words, library of videos, and/or album of pictures are not sufficient to re-enact or truly communicate this “six-dimensional” experience…even though we try.

Soon it is time to head back to the trail junction, as our adventure is not over…just yet. IMG_20160607_130622327_HDR We still have to make it safely back over all the sketchy parts we willed ourselves over and through in quickly softening snow and melting ice.  As you can see Jan and Scout had no problem “scampering” down the trial.

Looming in the forefront of our minds is the fact that we still have to retrieve our packs and don them once more for our descent to Trail Camp (“Outpost” as some call it).  Ah, but we will do this with a huge smile and with the confidence that we have successfully traversed this path before.

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Teamwork is key, and Scout is always there to lend a hand


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The final “sketch”…I mean the last “sketchy” section before returning to the Trail Junction and reunion with Jody and our packs

But wait!  The day is not over yet.  What goes up…must come down, and it is not necessarily pretty.

…to be continued

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A “Terrorific” Day…Part One

There was no bedtime reading tonight.  We were just plain too tired to listen even if Scout had brought one.  This day’s events will forever be seared in our collective memories.  It all started at 0400 this morning when we exited our tents to begin the final packing for a 0430 departure to the top of Whitney from Guitar Lake.  A string of lights hung like slow moving fireflies against the backdrop of black that was the mountain we were to climb.  Bright stars stretched to the horizon.  One could see the Milky Way overhead.  The air was brisk and electric.
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Today was the day.  With excitement, and dare I say a little anxiety we began our climb in the slowly waining dark with headlamps lighting the way.  After Whitney 439As we reached our first water collection opportunity, it was time to utilize our Microspikes as several stretches of now crisp snow fields lie ahead hiding the trail from our view.  Better to walk up and over the snow and in the general direction of the trail than to wander about looking for each twist and turn.

This was not an easy task, and even though the snow was still crisp and strong, an occasional post holing could not be avoided.  Jody was the “winner”.  She must of hit every possible post holing opportunity there was, and even before we reached the Whitney Trail junction she was “gased” …and with good reason.  This trail (the final leg of the John Muir Trail…JMT) from Guitar Lake to Whitney is not the best marked, nor the easiest.   I don’t recall a sign or any semblance of a trail marker anywhere past the turn off for the ranger station just past Crabtree Meadows.  Maybe they were there, but just covered in snow.  Today’s trek, with the added feature of snow (icy) and terrifyingly steep faces and drops made for a harrowing day.

I think I can speak for all of my compatriots, not only were we physically drained, but mentally as well.  100% supreme focus was required at all times, just so you wouldn’t plunge to your death, or at least a serious traumatic injury, in which case you’d probably wish you were dead.

As we marched up the trail, stopping at regular intervals to BREATH, the 700 miles in shape PCT thru-hikers sprung (and I do mean sprung) past us like they were walking on a fast moving treadmill.  And then there were those who had already finished.  They “tagged” Whitney and would probably be to Forrester Pass even before we reached Whitney.  It would have been nice to slack pack (carry water and a snack) like the PCT hikers, but we were going over the other side and out at Whitney Portal so we had to bring all our gear with us.  It took us a whopping FIVE hours to make it to the trail junction of the Whitney Trail.  After Whitney 444We were told by many a PCTer that the rest of the way was “easy” and not as “sketchy” as it was coming up to this point.  And the funny thing, is that we believed them!  Had we known what we know now we would have stayed in Lone Pine and bought a post card, Googled photos from the internet, or turned around a went back from whence we came, but no we had to be adventurous. Goal #1 reached.  Now to Goal #2.

…to be continued

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